Retrial starts for Round Rock man accused in 2009 strangling death

Williamson County

In opening statements, the state detailed actions they say Crispin Harmel took before leaving 27-year-old Jessika Kalaher for dead.

They say Harmel followed Kalaher out of Walmart in Cedar Park in the early morning hours of Sept. 7, 2009.

They say he got in the backseat of her car, choked her with her seat belt and forced her to drive to an ATM and take out her last $20.

The state argues they then drove to a park where Harmel raped Kalaher. That’s where they say he strangled her again until she passed out and drove her car back to the area of the Walmart.

The defense argued there was no evidence that Kalaher had been sexually assaulted. They also said Harmel, 38, willingly gave police statements when they asked to question him, and willingly let investigators search his truck. 

All of this evidence is being presented again in Harmel’s retrial. In 2014, Harmel’s first trial was declared a mistrial after the state wasn’t able to provide the defense counsel time stamps on the Walmart surveillance video. 

The timing was so important because the defense’s case was based primarily on the argument that Harmel could not have been with the victim at the time of the offenses.

Harmel is charged with capital murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. 

The state called its first witness Tuesday morning, Melanie Lopez Kilpatrick, Kalaher’s cousin and best friend. Kilpatrick told prosecutors she, Kalaher and some friends were at a bar and Kalaher was their designated driver that night.

After dropping off everyone at home, Kalaher drove to Walmart in Cedar Park, Kilpatrick believes to get dog food because she said she needed some earlier in the day.

Kilpatrick testified she got a call from one of Kalaher’s coworkers saying she didn’t show up to work that day. Kilpatrick describes the moment she saw Kalaher’s car in a strip mall next to Walmart, with her body inside. “I was screaming her name and pounding on the window,” said Kilpatrick in tears. 

The state called Kristina Wilson to testify. Wilson worked at Little Caesars across from Walmart, where Kalaher’s car was found. Wilson says she saw Kalaher in the back seat of her car naked, trying to get into the front seat and get dressed, when she arrived to work at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 7.

Wilson described Kalaher as “jerky” and uncoordinated. Wilson saw her again around 10 a.m. outside of her car where she seemed “skittish.”

About 45 minutes later Wilson says she saw Kalaher back inside her car and it looked like she was talking to herself. Wilson testified she saw Wilson one last time a little after noon, still in her car. She said she was making figure 8’s on her steering wheel. Kalaher was found dead in her car a few hours later. 

When asked why she didn’t call police, Wilson said she thought maybe Kalaher was on drugs or had a mental illness and she “didn’t want to take a chance.”

“But for his strangulation of her, she wouldn’t have had the brain damage that then had her sitting in a hot car that led to her death by heat stroke,” said Nancy Nemer with the attorney general’s office. 

Sgt. Larry Bond with the Cedar Park Police Department testified Tuesday about the surveillance video he received from Walmart.

He identified Harmel as the person who followed Kalaher out of Walmart. He also said Harmel used Kalaher’s debit card at a nearby gas station just after 3 a.m. Sgt. Bond pointed to surveillance video showing Harmel returning to the area with Kalaher’s car, and leaving her vehicle to walk back to his truck in the Walmart parking lot, which video shows he left at 2:57 a.m.

During the initial investigation, police said Harmel admitted that he had thrown away a debit card belonging to Kalaher and a receipt from where the debit card was used.

He also stated the clothing he was seen wearing at the Walmart had been left at a friend’s house; something police say the friend said was a lie.

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